This is one of a series of questions centered around how an isolated group of people would survive. Each question focuses on a single aspect of survival. Details about the peoples' situation are below:

In a novel I am developing, roughly 500 people are living on a peninsula. The isthmus connecting the peninsula to the mainland is very narrow, and spanned by a wall, which prevents the people from leaving (there are deterrents preventing them from climbing the wall or otherwise circumventing it). They also cannot swim around the wall. This also means that no land-based animals can cross onto the peninsual from the mainland. The inhabitants have to live with what they have. For the sake of details, assume the peninusla is roughly the size, shape, and location of Mahia Peninsula.

This particular question deals with armor. The people on the peninsula are all in one village, so there are no wars, battles, or the like. Nothing larger than the occasional brawl. However, the inhabitants do need at least three suits of some type of armor. This armor will be used in a 1v1 battle against a strong opponent with a heavy metal sword, similar in construction to this. The armor needs to be light enough to allow the user to move fairly quickly, while still being as strong as possible. The user of this armor is also using an identical sword to the one mentioned above.

Given the resources present, what is the best armor that could be made to fit these needs?

Resources present:

  • No metal. Aside from the previously mentioned sword (which should not be considered in the list of resources), these people have no access to metal.
  • Hides from Sea Creatures. There are not many land-based animals on the peninsula, certainly no large ones. There are plenty of sea creatures such as seals however, which could provide hides for leather.
  • Plant life. Probably not the best bet for armor, but an abundance of plant life is available if needed, including pines (largely cedars), bushes, and vines.
  • Stones. Rock is readily available, as is flint. Not ideal for armor obviously, but could be useful as tools to help create the armor.

It should be noted that the technology level of these people is basically bronze age minus the bronze. Without access to metal, they can get only so far.

My Research

My first thought was leather armors. I had some doubts about the existence of such armor though, so I did some research. It looks like leather might have been used mainly as support and backing for metal armors. There were no full suits of purely leather armor. That being said, it does seem that leather armor would provide at least some protection, though not against any sharp point. I found a great article explaining the uses of leather armor.

That being said, is there a better alternative that my people would have access to? Remember that speed is the priority.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that nothing available in the bronze age is really going to protect you against a good swing from a decent sword, if you can't have metal armour. You're basically limited to natural materials of which the strongest will be wood and bone, and swords will make quick work of either. Any protection they will give will be more than offset by the disadvantages of wearing armour in terms of weight and restricted movement. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Dec 23 '16 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MattBowyer So based on that I'd say thick padding/leather is my best bet? Maybe block a glancing blow or two and then it's over? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Dec 23 '16 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, maybe a bit on areas like the shoulders to deflect a glancing blow might help $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Dec 23 '16 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ What resources does your peninsula have? Having been to Portland Island, I know Mahia doesn't have resources for producing, supporting, etc. armor, including that amount of armor. But your peninsula might have some extra resources? $\endgroup$ – Mikey Dec 24 '16 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey The resources my island has are basically what I listed. Hides, lumber, vines, stones. That's about it. Unless I'm misunderstanding your use of the the term 'resources'? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Dec 24 '16 at 19:51


Composite armor made of laminated linen is a possibility that (arguably) was used in ancient history - Linothorax in wikipedia, a longer description published in New Yorker.

That would be armor that can offer at least some protection, but can be made without metal from essentially many layers of linen bonded with glue.

Of course, the major protective item in this situation is going to be a good shield.


Have you considered paper armour? If you have access to plants, you can compress their fibres to make stacked paper armour.

In fact, MythBusters once did a segment on this, and ended up classifying the myth as plausible.

The armor test compared 1⁄2 inches (13 mm) of paper folded to make armour versus 1⁄32 inch (1 mm) of steel armor. The results were that the paper armour actually works well against most attacks (Including swords), except blunt force attacks and modern day pistols.

It's very lightweight as well, allowing superb mobility to most hard-armours if you layer the paper armour correctly (Scales on a fish style).

You may also be interested in reading this link for information on variants of paper armour such as paper layered with cotton.

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    $\begingroup$ Uh ... bronze age was between 6600 BC and 600 BC so it was actually WAY before paper in china. How about papyrus the ancient egyptians used? $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Dec 24 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @OttoAbnormalverbraucher I know nothing about history, just what quick Google searches tell me. I suspect that papyrus would be a suitable substitute though. And yea, looks like I had no idea how to read the BCE numbers XD $\endgroup$ – Aify Dec 24 '16 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, it's always a little weird that the larger numbers occur before the small ones and it gets even more confusing if you're looking at BC and AD ... But I actually didn't know the times of invention either and looked it up. I just knew the early Romans lived in bronze age and that was sometime around 500 BC ;) $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Dec 26 '16 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Creative but I have to disagree. This group has less-than Bronze Age technology; while they may know of paper they do not have the ability to create it in abundance or with the quality of the store-bought paper that mythbusters used. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 26 '16 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra They don't need a lot of it, only the hero needs the armor, and the quality of the store bought paper doesn't actually matter too much with regard to the armor quality, since the way the armor works is mainly through the thickness of many layers (possibly with cloth layered in as well) causing too much friction for a weapon to cut through. Using thicker paper just means using less layers, or more layers for thinner paper. $\endgroup$ – Aify Dec 27 '16 at 2:15

Instead of armor direct, consider a cloak. A good cloth cloak can be used to entangle weapons. It also adds bulk to the defender, making it harder for the attacker to identify critical parts of the body... and sometimes miss altogether by striking the billow of the cloak instead of the defender. For details of using a cloak as a shield, please take a look at this answer: Wearing a cape during combat?

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... that's a good idea, but how much defense is it going to offer against a two-hand sword swing with full power behind it? Someone brought this up in a comment on the linked question, and he never really got answered. What are you thoughts? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Dec 24 '16 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ I can only comment what I've seen in practice fights in SCA -- the cloth of the cloak appears to be very effective at entangling such attacks. I'm not a trained fighter, just an observer. Any incoming swing where the attacker fully commits to the strike can be entangled, and that allows the defender to grab the blade directly without being cut. That means the attacker has to be a more skilled fighter... just brute force attack doesn't work against the cloak. In my observation. :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Dec 24 '16 at 4:53

What kind of animals live there? Maybe they could create carapace armor from large crustaceans. The Tasmanian Giant Crab grows a torso width of up to 46cm and the Japanese Spider Crab of up to 40cm. American Lobsters can reach a body length of 64cm so I'd assume one could create a somewhat useful carapace armor from a few of those. They'd probably not be very effective against the right swing of a steel bastard sword but I assume they could be more efficient than a sole leather armor. Especially when leather lined.

Besides, European swords were created to penetrate steel armor disregarding their agility restriction. Agility against a slow but heavily armored enemy is less useful anyway if it keeps you from handling a weapon able to do any damage to him.

So, as they do not wear armor but swing a not so much agile sword, your best option to counter them would probably to be quick and agile and outmanouver the enemy and attack with a lighter weapon like a middle eastern sabre or a small short or broad sword or anything like that.

  • $\begingroup$ I heard on another question that bone armors (and I'd guess carapace as well) shatter easily against steel. How well would the carapace hold up? Especially if I made it light? The sword being used has to be identical to the opponent's sword, as it is the only weapon that can wound the opponent. So a lighter sword isn't an option, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Dec 26 '16 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Why would the opponent not be wounded by a different weapon? Well, as said, they'd probably not be very effective, but I guess without a stronger material than steel, you can't get an effective protection at all. I'd assume it would be stronger than a bone armor, as bones are actually hard and not very thick tubes filled with soft bone marrow while a carapace is at least a whole plate of similar material. And with soft leather underneath as a cushion to absorb small part of the force it may be able to stand certain blows. I'm no expert, though, and this is just assumption. $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Jan 1 '17 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe also covered up with leather to spread the force of the blade to a slightly wider area, rather than taking the full energy in solely one small point in which the blade penetrates the armor. I can imagine it may be helpful against a swing of a blade but not against a stab so there would still be easy ways to get around. Your best protection would still be your own blade. Block and counter attack is probably your best option. $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Jan 1 '17 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ The blade has to be the same for fantasy/magical reasons. Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Jan 2 '17 at 1:09

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